Confirmation is the last of the Sacraments of Initiation for those already baptized in Christ, in order to make them strong and perfect Christians and disciples of Jesus Christ.
Confirmation as a Sacrament of Initiation: it is by its very nature intimately connected with the sacrament of baptism and is often referred to as the second of three sacramental moments in the Christian process of initiation, the other two being baptism and reception of Eucharist.
While all sacraments are encounters with Christ, confirmation is expressly concerned with making the presence of the Holy Spirit explicit in the life of the Christian. As the Spirit “proceeds from the Father and the Son” (Creed), consciousness of the presence of the Spirit is consciousness of the divine life within each baptized person.
Scripture: Within the overall theology of confirmation we recall that at every important moment in the life of Jesus and consequently the life of his disciples, the Holy Spirit is present: His Incarnation, Baptism in the Jordan, Crucifixion and Pentecost.
From all these Scriptural passages the Church has concluded that the rite of confirmation is distinct from the rite of baptism. While no specific mention is made in Scripture as to the origins of the rite, we do know that Christ promised and conferred upon his disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit and that they in turn passed this gift on through the laying on of hands and anointing. Thus it is traditionally held by the majority of theologians and by the Fathers of the Church that Christ instituted the sacrament of confirmation, leaving the matter and form to be decided by the apostles.
Laying on of Hands: Central to the rite is the action of the bishop by which he extends his hands over the confirmandi and invokes the Father through the Son to send the Holy Spirit. At the same time the sponsor has placed their hand on the right shoulder of the candidate, signifying the support of the community into which they have been fully initiated.
Oil of Chrism: the idea of anointing is commonly associated with the giving of the Holy Spirit. Oil became the symbol by which one was healed and strengthened, set apart and filled with the sevenfold gifts of the Spirit.
This holy oil, fragranced with balsam is consecrated by the bishop on Holy Thursday and divided among the parishes for use at baptism and confirmation. This rite of consecration is generally reserved to this bishop in his capacity as chief pastor of the local church. By it one is sealed with the mark of spiritual ownership: that testifies to the world that you now share in the identity and mission of Christ.
The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: During the rite of confirmation, the bishop places his right thumb in the chrism oil and making a sign of the cross on the forehead of the candidate saying “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit”. At all times this is a celebration of divine self-giving during which the sevenfold gifts of the Spirit are also received. So what are these gifts? In Isaiah 11:2 in the foretelling of the Messiah, six gifts are identified as evidence that the Spirit of the Lord will be upon him: “the spirit of wisdom, understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord” To these has been added the ‘spirit of reverence’: giving a total of seven, seven being a perfect number in the Semitic world. At all times we should remember that the gifts are eminently manifested in the life of Jesus Christ and are given to us for our own spiritual edification.
Effects of Confirmation: As the Apostles received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and we changed irrevocably, so we receive the indelible mark of the Holy Spirit at confirmation and are changed. In that moment of grace we are deepened in our baptismal identity, more firmly united to Christ and his mission, filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, emboldened with the courage to confess Christ and made full members of his Church. Although it is often referred to as the sacrament of Christian maturity, maturity here does not refer to calendar years but to the completion within us of God’s life and our unmerited election through the Christ event.
Who can receive? Any baptized Catholic, not yet confirmed! As part of the process of initiation into Christ, the Latin Church places it at the age of discretion, not withstanding that those in danger of death may be confirmed prior to this age so as to be perfected by the Spirit in the fullness of Christ.
Conclusion: The mystery of confirmation is the mystery of Pentecost alive in the church, God’s life-giving presence empowering his followers to witness to Christ, the source of our salvation and reconciliation with God. It is a celebration of divine fidelity and intimacy that invites us into a new relationship with God, by, which we can now call upon God as “Abba, Father” (Rom 8:15). At it very heart it takes us into the life of the Trinity, the love of the Father and the Son made manifest in outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
By signing us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, confirmation makes us more completely the image of the Lord and fills us with the Holy Spirit, so that we may bear witness to him before all the world and work to bring the Body of Christ to its fullness as soon as possible” (Christian Initiation: General Introduction # 2)
“Two sacraments preside over the perfect birth of a Christian, the one regenerating the man, which is baptism, the other communicating to him the Holy Spirit” (St Cyprian)
“Thou hast received the spiritual seal, the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding…Keep what thou hast received. God the father has sealed thee, Christ the Lord has confirmed thee; and the Holy Spirit has given the pledge in thy heart." (St Ambrose of Milan)
“And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove…" (Lk 1:10)